9 Reasons Some Churches Will Not Reach College Students

I love college students. In fact, I’d want to be pastoring in a university town if the Lord called me back to the senior pastorate. I’m convinced that their generation has a much greater opportunity to reach the nations than my generation does. On the other hand, some churches, I’m convinced, won’t reach college students. Here’s why:

  1. Churches don’t see their potential. They’re in our churches for a few years, and then they go. They’re transient. Rather than see our opportunity to invest in them for the sake of the gospel, we almost pacify them. 
  2. College students want genuine relationships with other adults. They’re not interested in the superficial relationships that mark so many of our churches. Authenticity really matters to them. 
  3. They want to be included and involved while they’re in our churches. They’re not an appendage tacked on to the small group schedule just because they happen to be in our area. 
  4. They want interaction with older adults. That’s tough to accomplish when we relegate them to their own group and assume that’s where they’re most content. 
  5. They want deep teaching. Shallow Bible studies won’t cut it for many college students. They’re asking honest questions, and they want solid answers. 
  6. They’re not fans of gimmicky religion. They want depth, truth, the Word of God. They haven’t always seen much of that, so they gravitate toward it when they hear it. 
  7. They want heroes. They don’t want to be idolatrous, but they do want men and women to whom they can look for guidance and support. And, if they can’t find those heroes in their local church, they’ll find them among leaders they listen to on the Internet. 
  8. They want to be challenged. They’re unafraid to be challenged to spend some years working overseas to be witnesses where missionaries can’t go. They’re willing to tackle tough social issues of the day. They want somebody to push them to be holy and to get in their face when they aren’t. 
  9. They want a safe place to ask questions. They’re not interested in just adopting the faith of their parents. Even “the Bible says so” is often not a sufficient answer for them; they want to know why we believe the Bible. Many of them, too, have no faith background, and they come with genuine doubts and questions.  

My point is that I’m not sure every church is ready to reach college students. Let us know your thoughts. 


  • Don Johnson says:

    I have served two churches in proximity to Christian colleges. The dilemma we confronted was that the college had chapel services (two mandated) and the students felt as if they had already “attended church” during the week and wanted Sunday off!

  • KD says:

    As consultant I heard variations of certain ‘reasons’ (excuses) more times than I care to admit. I’ve also heard these while serving in church as pastor. In my city, the largest unreached population segment is college students. We have over 115,000 college students here. That is amazing. So, for almost a decade I met with countless churches about how to reach college students or asking them to please help partially adopt a college campus near them. As a pastor, I’ve talked about the 52,000 plus within 10 miles of us on numerous occasions (still praying and not giving up-going to take people on a ‘field trip’ to a local university to open eyes).

    This is anecdotal in the sense I didn’t keep track of every conversation and can therefore say, ‘Of 50 churches in the area sampled, the following objections/excuses were the top unusual reasons for not engaging college students.’ But, I know I have heard these so many times (or variations of the sentiments), that I can comfortable say ‘these are real issues -at least in our city.’

    The objection/arguments goes something like this:

    1) College students will need space we don’t have. Where will we put them? (This from a church within 7 miles of a community college with 30,000 students). The church had space, by the way. They would have simply had to rearrange some classroom spaces. That was the real problem. Turf shepherds.

    2) ‘I don’t mean this to sound bad, but facts are facts: ministries cost money. College students typically don’t tithe or have much to tithe. If the ministry won’t pay for itself, what are we supposed to do?’

    I have heard variations on this several times.

    These are not God-honoring responses. But, they were recurring.

    • Mark says:

      You also have to accept that these are or will become the ultra-educated people. That means you can’t be folksy in the sermon, must make an argument for Christianity and even God sometimes, and must bring your A game. Take a look at Boston with schools such as Harvard, MIT, Tufts, then the med schools, law schools, and the training hospitals. This requires clergy to be top notch to be able to answer the questions that the students raise. Also, people aren’t going to want to talk some campus pastor, they are going to want full fledged (or senior) clergy because they aren’t going with easy questions, but the most difficult.

  • Mark says:

    Some churches don’t want them, don’t understand them, and can’t maintain confidentiality. Also, some churches just want the college students to come to their regular service. It would help if once a month there were a service for the students not at 10 AM on Sunday as most weren’t awake.

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